United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ORDER REVERSING THE COMMISSIONER AND REMANDING FOR
A. TSUCHIDA, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Louise Williams appeals the ALJ's 2017 decision finding
her not disabled. She argues the ALJ erred in (1) failing to
provide a function-by-function determination in defining her
residual functional capacity (“RFC”), (2)
assessing certain medical opinions, (3) discounting lay
witness statements, and (4) failing to proceed to step five
in the sequential evaluation. Dkt. 13 at 1. As discussed
below, the Court REVERSES the
Commissioner's final decision and
REMANDS the case for further proceedings
under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Function-by-Function Determination and Dr. Goff's
found Ms. Williams has the RFC to perform “light
work.” Tr. 515. Ms. Williams argues the ALJ erred by
failing to perform a function-by-function assessment of her
ability to “stand, walk, and sit” in determining
her RFC, as required by SSR 96-8p (“the RFC assessment
is a function-by-function assessment based upon all of the
relevant evidence of an individual's ability to do
work-related activities.”). SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184,
at *3 (July 2, 1996). Essentially, the ALJ performs a
function-by-function analysis to avoid overlooking any of the
individual's limitations or restrictions. Id. at
*4. An ALJ does this by identifying a claimant's
“functional limitations or restrictions and assess[es]
her work-related abilities on a function by function
basis.” Id. at * 1. The ALJ then considers
each function separately, even if the final RFC assessment
will combine activities. Id. However, the ALJ need
not perform a function-by-function analysis for impairments
the ALJ “found neither credible nor supported by the
record.” Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211,
1217 (9th Cir. 2005). But for this standard to apply, the ALJ
must have properly rejected credible evidence supported by
Williams' argument thus turns on whether the ALJ properly
evaluated the opinions of Barbara Goff, M.D., and Justin
Turner, M.D. If the ALJ did not, then the ALJ harmfully
erred. Dr. Goff treated Ms. Williams for cancer and opined:
Ms. Williams' claim that her peripheral neuropathy
prevents her from using her hands more than 1/3 of a workday
or standing/walking six hours per day is reasonable, Tr. 500;
Ms. Williams cannot stand a total of six hours in an eight
hour day, Tr. 501; and Ms. Williams might need
neuropsychological testing to assess memory deficits.
rejected Dr. Goff's opinion for five reasons. First, Ms.
Williams' activities―working full days at her
sister's daycare, performing most household chores,
helping a daughter move, and spending a day at a casino with
her husband―contradict the doctor's opinions. These
activities do not contradict Dr. Goff's opinions because
they do not necessarily require “handling”
ability of more than 1/3 of day, or the ability to stand more
than six hours.
Dr. Goff's opinion is inconsistent with Ms. Williams'
testimony that she can only walk one block before needing 20
minutes rest, with her collection of unemployment benefits
after she stopped working, and with how she stopped looking
for work to care for her husband. Dr. Goff did not opine how
long Ms. Williams could walk before needing rest. She simply
opined Ms. Williams could not walk or stand six hours a day,
an opinion which is not inconsistent with Ms. Williams'
testimony. Dr. Goff also did not opine Ms. Williams could
perform no work activity. Hence Ms. Williams receipt of
benefits or care for her husband do not contradict Dr.
that Ms. Williams “overstates her difficulties, ”
i.e., is not credible. The ALJ does not provide clear and
convincing reasons for rejecting a doctor's opinion by
questioning the credibility of the patient's complaints
where the doctor does not discredit those complaints and
supports his ultimate opinion with his own observations.
Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1159 (9th Cir.
2001). Here Dr. Goff accepted Ms. Williams' complaints.
Dr. Goff's opinions also appear to be based on her
clinical assessment and the treatment she provided Ms.
Williams for her physical problems. This is highlighted by
how Dr. Goff declined to give opinions regarding Ms.
Williams' cognitive status, stating she did not evaluate
Ms. Williams for cognitive problems. Tr. 501.
Dr. Goff's opinion is inconsistent with other medical
evidence such as how Ms. Williams can walk with a normal
gait; has good range of motion, and motor strength; and is
“content” with her medication management. Tr.
518. However, Dr. Goff did not opine Ms. Williams lacked
normal gait, or lacked good range of movement or motor
strength. Hence there is no contradiction. Rather she opined
Ms. Williams could not stand or walk six hours in a day.
Further the fact Ms. Williams is “content” with
her medications in no way contradicts the doctor's
opinions. The doctor did not say Ms. Williams was not
“content” with her medications, and the ALJ
provided no discussion as to how or why the medications Ms.
Williams received were somehow inconsistent with Dr.
Goff's opinions about Ms. Williams' limitations.
Hence while Ms. Williams' statement might indicate she is
getting good treatment, it doesn't show Dr. Goff's
opinions are off-base.
Dr. Turner's opinions are inconsistent with Dr.
Goff's. Tr. 518-19. Dr. Turner examined Ms. Williams in
March 2016, which the ALJ acknowledged is well past the date
last insured, the relevant period at issue. Dr. Turner opined
Ms. Williams required regular breaks from standing or walking
due to limiting symptoms caused by Ms. Williams'
peripheral neuropathy. Tr. 810-11. Dr. Turner's opinion
is thus consistent with Dr. Goff's in that both doctors
opined peripheral neuropathy limited Ms. Williams, not
inconsistent as the ALJ found.
Court notes the ALJ rejected Dr. Turner's opinion that
peripheral neuropathy limited Ms. Williams. But the ALJ
cannot alter Dr. Turner's opinion in order to make it
inconsistent with Dr. Goffs. Moreover, the ALJ's
rationale for rejecting Dr. Turner's opinion is not
supported by substantial evidence. The ALJ rejected Dr.
Turner's opinion on the grounds that it is based on Ms.
Williams' non-credible statements, rather than the
doctor's observations. The ALJ erred because Dr. Turner
did not find Ms. Williams unbelievable. Further Dr. Turner
stated “She is limited due to her neuropathy as
demonstrated during the exam as she experienced
developed burning discomfort with coordination gait
activities during the exam.” Tr. 817.
Hence the ALJ's findings that the doctor made no
observations regarding Ms. Williams' neuropathic
discomfort is not supported by substantial evidence.
Court notes Ms. Williams argues the ALJ erred in adopting the
opinion of state agency reviewing doctors Alnoor Virji, M.D.,
and Wayne Hurley, M.D. Dkt. 15 at 6-7. The Court need not
discuss the argument because as discussed above, the ALJ
erred in rejecting Dr. Goff's opinions and Dr.
Turner's opinion about limitations caused by peripheral
neuropathy, and the matter must be remanded for further